Dr Alastair MacFadyen Scottish country dance ambassador
ARGYLL resident, Dr Alastair MacFadyen, who died, aged 79, at the end of July, was one of the most influential and most respected personalities in the international world of Scottish country dancing. Born in Carlisle, his family on his father’s side hailed from Strathlachlan on Loch Fyneside.
Alastair recalled his childhood introduction to Scottish country dancing, when his paternal grandfather and Aunt Ina were visiting in Carlisle. While Ina settled at the piano, Alastair’s grandfather began striking his stick on the floor, instructing: ‘And step, 2, 3…and step, 2, 3,’ the boy’s first lesson in the timing of the pas de basque, the step fundamental to Scottish country dancing.
Alastair was a graduate of Liverpool University, and Doctor of Philosophy through his researches in Spanish archives.
He was appointed a lecturer in history at Jordanhill College of Education, Glasgow, in 1966. Miss Dorothy Paterson, a former administrator at the college and long-time friend who resides in Inveraray, testifies to the popularity of Alastair among staff and students.
She recalls that when he took a Jordanhill class to Russia: ‘Alastair’s luggage contained nylon tights and soap as barter items, as well as half a dozen hard-boiled eggs in case he didn’t take to Soviet fare.’
Alastair held every significant office in the Royal Scottish Country Dance Society (RSCDS).
He was chairman of the Glasgow Branch; elected to the executive council in 1975; appointed First Honorary Archivist in 1978; chairman of the RSCDS from 1985 to 1988; Director of the St Andrews Summer School from 1994 to 1998; and made Honorary President of the RSCDS in 2007.
That year he was invited to a royal reception at Holyrood as one who had made a significant contribution to Scottish life and culture. In 2013, ill health forced him to retire as Honorary President.
In September 2013, Alastair endured a terrifying experience when his car plunged 30 feet down a steep ravine in wild countryside near Glenbranter in Argyll on his way back from a shopping trip. The vehicle landed on its side, half-submerged in the river and invisible from the road.
He recalled: ‘It was about 4 p.m. when I went off the road. I tried shouting for help, but it didn’t work.
‘The food I had just bought was in the boot along with my mobile phone. I couldn’t get to them. I was able to dip a handkerchief into raindrops on the outside of the vehicle to moisten my lips.
‘Every evening as it got dark I made sure I was in a position well clear of the water just in case. But then the river rose a bit so that was worrying.’
He lay in the car for over three days until rescued by a local man out picking mushrooms.
As ambassador and teacher to the worldwide family of dedicated dancers in countries including Japan, Australia, New Zealand, Canada and America, Alastair represented the RSCDS with dignity, wisdom and wit.
But much as he enjoyed his travels and reunions with old friends, he loved the comfort and solitude of the house of his forebears on Loch Fyneside, where he cultivated a fragrant and colourful garden.
To be served his home produce, along with dancing reminiscences, was a feast.
A devotee of Scottish music and frequent broadcaster on Scottish country dance, nevertheless he was interested in, and supportive of other forms of dance.
He became a trustee of the Russian Ballet Society in 1986, and was a founder member of the Scottish Traditions of Dance Trust. An admirer of traditional skills, he was active in the Strachur Smiddy Museum.
The number of dancers in the pews at Strathlachlan Church who had travelled distances to attend Alastair’s funeral, testified to the esteem and affection in which he was held. It seemed fitting that his interment in the ancestral countryside he loved so much was taking place as the first week of the RSCDS’s Summer School at St Andrews, another great love, was underway.
Those of us privileged to know Alastair as a friend and fellow dancer enhancing a set in the Younger Hall at St Andrews, among dancers from many lands, will miss his buoyant presence.
A bachelor, Alastair is survived by his nephews, Alasdair, and Duncan (who resides in Dunoon), and his niece, Morag.
Dr Lorn Macintyre
HIGHLY RESPECTED: Dr Alistair MacFadyen held every significant office in the Royal Scottish Country Dance